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Investing in God’s Kingdom

A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Senior Minister, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va., on November 4, 2012.

Ephesians 1:15-23

This morning, however, I will be addressing the confluence of two topics that I know you love to hear: politics and money.  We are two days away from election day, which I know many of you are looking forward to with great anticipation.  Your eagerness may have less to do with deciding who our President will be for the next four years, and more to do with a merciful end to all the attack ads, mailings, and robo calls that we’ve been receiving from both candidates.  Today is also the beginning of our annual financial stewardship emphasis.  This year, our theme is “Investing in God.”  This Sunday, I will be talking about Investing in God’s Kingdom.  Next Sunday, we will address Investing in God’s Mission.  And on Nov. 18, which is Pledge Sunday, we will look into Investing in God’s Future.  I can tell already that you are on the edge of your pews hanging onto my every word!

Politics and money . . . they go together.  According to the website opensecrets.org, our two major candidates for President of the United States have spent a combined amount of nearly two billion dollars on their campaigns.[1]  In our present-day political system, it takes money to get elected.  Both of our presidential candidates are men of means and masterful fundraisers.  Major contributors donate to each candidate with hopes of gaining greater access to the candidate.  If the candidate wins, those contributors hope that their investment will give them greater influence in the policies of the President.  That’s how our present ruling system, the “politics of human beings,” works.

In this morning Epistle’s Lesson, the writer of the letter to the Ephesians—some scholars think it was the apostle Paul—articulates a vision of how the kingdom of God works.  In this passage, the word “power” is used three times and the resurrected and ascended Christ is affirmed to be “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”  At a time when the Roman Caesar was demanding that all citizens of the empire pledge their allegiance to him by saying, “Caesar is Lord,” the Christians in Ephesus were reminded of a different reality, namely, “Jesus is Lord.” 

Throughout history, the people of God experienced the rise and fall of many forms of human government.  Empires, kingdoms, regimes, and administrations have come and gone, but Christianity is still here.  Now, I’m not saying that Christians should have no part in government or the democratic process.  I’m also not saying that all political parties are the same.  Depending on your philosophical and theological leanings, you will discern the merits of one party over another, and you will vote for one candidate over another.  All I’m saying is that as Christians, our ultimate allegiance is to Christ’s rule in our lives and to God’s Kingdom in the world.  Just as all individuals fall short of Christ’s rule, so all governments and political parties fall short of God’s rule.  But God can still use fallen human governments—and fallen human beings—as instruments for His glory.  So, please vote this Tuesday.  But on Wednesday morning, let us all be united in proclaiming, “So-and-so may have been elected President, but Jesus is still Lord.” 

“Jesus is Lord,” that’s what our baptism candidates pronounced last Sunday.  So, what does it mean to have Jesus as our Lord, to have God’s rule and power over our lives?  In verses 19 and 20, we see that this power is the resurrected power of Christ that is over every power and dominion.  And in the preceding verses, we find that this resurrection power is accompanied by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and by the riches of God the Father’s glorious inheritance.   In other words, in Christ, we are already rich, and it is from the wealth of God’s wisdom and revelation that we have access to God’s power.  So, in contrast to the politics of human beings, where contributors have to invest money in order to gain access to power and benefits, in God’s Kingdom, because of the resurrection power of Christ, we already have been given the full benefits and inheritance from the riches of God! 

The politics of human beings tries to convince us that we need to invest in their party so that, as in this presidential race, the right man is elected into power so that he can fulfill his promise to control the forces of the economy, to control the actions of our enemies, to direct the destiny of this country to our liking.  The politics of human beings plays on our fears and raises our anxieties about what the “other guy” is going to do to take away our jobs, our freedoms and our security.  This human politics leads us to horde and guard what we have.

The politics of God’s Kingdom proclaims that the right Man has already been crucified, resurrected and ascended, so that all powers and principalities are under His control, and that the eternal destiny of the saints and the cosmos are under His control.  The politics of God’s Kingdom proclaims that we have been elected as citizens of God’s Kingdom, invited to live into the resurrection power of Christ that frees us from our fears and anxieties about our economy, our enemies, our security and our future.  As we know and experience Christ in this way, the eyes of our heart may be enlightened so that we may know God’s hope, God’s riches and God’s incomparable power.  Given these riches, we are not prompted to horde, but to share and to give.

A villager left town and noticed a monk, a wandering peasant who, having attained enlightenment, understands that the whole world is our home, the sky is our roof, and God is our Father who looks after us.  With only a few clothes and a knapsack, this monk moves from place to place the way you and I would move from one room to another in our houses. 

The villager greeted the monk and said, “I can’t believe it!” 

And the monk replied, “What is this you cannot believe?” 

The villager said, “I had a dream about you last night.  I dreamed that the Lord said to me, ‘Tomorrow morning, you leave the village around 11 o’clock, and you’ll run into a wandering monk.’  And here I’ve met you!” 

“What else did the Lord say to you?” asked the monk. 

The villager replied, “God said to me, if the monk gives you a precious stone, you will be the richest person in the whole world.  So will you give me the stone?” 

The monk said, “Wait a minute,” and rummaged through the knapsack.  After a minute, the monk pulled out a stone and asked, “Would this be the stone that you’re talking about?” 

The villager gazed at the stone in wonder.  It was a diamond, probably the largest diamond in the whole world, for it was as large as a person’s head.  The villager held the diamond and said, “Can I have this?” 

The monk answered, “Of course!  I found it in the forest.  You’re welcome to it!”  And the monk went on and sat under a tree on the outskirts of the village. 

The villager took the diamond and walked away.  Such great joy!  But then, instead of going home, the villager sat under a tree himself, totally immersed in thought.  Toward evening, the villager went back to the monk, whom he found still sitting under a tree. 

Handing the diamond back to the monk, the villager asked, “Could you do me a favor?” 

“What is it?” said the monk. 

The villager replied, “Could you give me the riches that make it possible for you to give this thing away so easily?”[2]

In the coming days and weeks, will you ask God for the riches to make it possible for you to give this thing away so easily?  Only you and God know what “this thing” is in your life.  It may be the power of a political ideology.  It could be economic power in the form of material possessions and wealth.  Or it could be any other power that continues to bind you – the power of fear from dangers, the power of anxiety about the future, the power of needing love and approval from others.  Will you stop investing in those powers, but instead, invest in God’s Kingdom?

As we come now to the service of the Lord’s Supper, may the eyes of your heart be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power that is above all powers.  May we come to this Table declaring our allegiance to the King whose crown is a crown of thorns, whose scepter is a shepherd’s staff, whose power is the power of service, and whose riches is invested in us by the giving of His life.  This Tuesday, we may vote differently; but always, we are united by the one body and blood of Christ.  As we receive these elements, let us be reminded that the riches we have are the result of Christ’s sacrifice, even as we consider our investment in God’s Kingdom.  Amen.

[1] http://www.opensecrets.org/pres12/index.php, accessed November 2, 2012.

[2] Originally told by Anthony de Mello, http://anthony-de-mello.blogspot.com/2007/11/diamond.html.